The Most Helpful Advice I’ve Heard On Friendship

It seems that every era of my life, prior to the last about 6 years, was marked by rich and diverse relationships.

  • I was a part of a lively cul-de-sac gang as a kid and spent school and summer days within walking distance of playmates and spontaneous kickball games.
  • I had a constant rotation of faithful girlfriends whom I could always confide in from elementary school to my university years.
  • I was part of a tightly-knit cross country and track team all throughout high school. Every day in some way our lives intermingled, we made contact be it through class, at practice, at each other’s houses, or bonding over long bus rides to meets.
  • In university, the pattern of deep connection continued without much effort. I never had a shortage of friends who I could call when I needed company or who would drop everything and run to Target with me on a whim. There was always someone within arms reach, down the hallway, or in my car.
  • I shared apartments with friends up until 6 months before my wedding. And that includes 4.5 years of living in Austria. My life was crawling with people and I loved to be around all of them. From morning to night, I was immersed in engaging conversations and constantly making plans for where our ever-growing community would meet up next.
  • Our first years of marriage, spent in South Africa, were also marked with heartfelt connections, back-and-forth phone calls, and how-are-you-check-ins. We had regular scheduled and spontaneous outings with friends near and far. Every weekend there were hikes, parties, braais, and gatherings we could attend with people who cared about each other.
  • Even when we moved to the Netherlands with our first child, friendships continued to expand. Our circle of relationships stretched across continents now. Our little three-story Dutch home was where some of our best memories were made. The calendar filled up with long-term visitors and dinner guests. We experienced an overabundance of invitations to meet at parks and cafes from all sorts of interesting people.

I don’t know exactly what led to the shifts, but in our first permanent move back to America, now with 3 children, friendship began to look and feel different.

We noticed our relationships didn’t happen so naturally anymore. They took weeks of tedious planning, tender cultivation, and intentional invitations.

  • We were tired and sleep-deprived (still are!) from round-the-clock parental duties.
  • To add to the chaos, we continued our unspoken tradition of moving every couple of years.
  • Oh and did I mention, we unraveled from our childhood religious beliefs, and with it gave up a pre-packaged, already-prepared community.

I don’t know if we’ve ever recovered and found “our people” since then.

Questions, longings, and concerns about friendship pop in and out of my mind all the time- what is it exactly, how do I make friends, and how do I maintain them?

But mostly what I carry is a fondness in my heart towards every season and the sweet companions whom I’ve met along the path of life thus far.

  • I harbor no ill thoughts against anyone who I’ve lost connection with and refuse to take their silence or distance personally.
  • Although friendships seem sparse and I could be tempted to label this era, The Drought Years, I will not give in to the negative labels.
  • I also refuse to berate myself for not doing better, calling more frequently, planning more parties, or writing more letters.

I don’t know what friendship is exactly. It feels elusive and ethereal and I can’t quite grasp what I’m supposed to do to achieve it or feel successful at it. Viewing friendship as a task I need to complete doesn’t help though.

What helps though is this:

  • Focusing more on my oneness with everyone and everything. I am surrounded by a relational universe and kindred spirits abound.
  • Allowing friendships to take on new shapes and forms throughout my life- to evolve with me.

I’ll end with this- one of the most revolutionary images I received came from Rob Bell, who compared friendship to floating down a river.*

He said,

“All of your movements are happening within a greater current that you cannot control. Notice what this image does when you think about in terms of friendship. It loosens the whole thing up.

The point is to float down the river together.

The feeling, the joy, the serendipity, the gift is “oh look at this person floating next to me. What a wonderful thing to float down the river with this person for a while.” If you grab hold of their tube too tightly if you cling too tightly with “I’ve got to float with these people,” then it immediately shifts the energy and it’s just not that beautiful of a day.”

I hear a few important and freeing concepts, do you?

  1. Friendship is fluid.
  2. We cannot control it and the moment we do- we ruin it.
  3. Friendship can afford to be more loose and fun and easy.
  4. We are all floating down this river together. Everyone has the potential to be some kind of friend to us.

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How have your friendships changed through the years? How does it make you feel?

What helps you remain in connection with the world around you?

What does friendship mean to you?

*I’d encourage you to listen to the full Robcast episode here

One Comment

  • I resonate with this SO HARD! I’ve always been surrounded by rich, vibrant community and friendships and now that all my kids are entering school – it’s like crickets. It takes so much back and forth to schedule even a walk sometimes – I feel like throwing in the towel but then it’s lonely. Are we all so wary of inconveniencing our busy schedules? I feel like I’m in middle school again- what is a friend and how do I maintain one?

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